BA Music and Drama

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Theatres of Spontaneity

Course unit fact file
Unit code DRAM21401
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Drama
Available as a free choice unit? No


Please note that this unit is delivered on-campus only and is therefore not available to remote learners

This course introduces the theory and practice of spontaneous drama – i.e. theatre that has not been (fully) pre-rehearsed, and which relies to a greater or lesser extent on improvisation. Such drama is sometimes confined to the relative privacy of the rehearsal room, workshop, or therapy space, and at other times is played out in public. In most instances, spontaneous drama involves a blurring of the conventional distinction between actor and audience, with spectators (or spect-actors) being encouraged to intervene, whether verbally or physically, in shaping the performance. 


Improvisation crops up in many diverse contexts – from Stanislavskian actor training to experimental live art, from sketch comedy to psychotherapy, and from children’s games of make-believe to Theatre of the Oppressed. This course touches on a broad spectrum of these practices, in order to highlight the sometimes unexpected connections between them (both practically and historically). In classes, we will experiment with a range of spontaneous performance methods, in order to develop students’ confidence and versatility in working unrehearsed. All that is asked of participants is a willingness to jump in and go with the flow.  


As the course develops, students will be encouraged to develop their own interests in the application of spontaneous methods. Working in small groups (of two or three), they will then co-devise a short, participatory workshop which exemplifies these responses. These assessed workshops may be thrown open to external audience-participants (enabling a wider range of improvised responses), or they may be kept “in-class”, depending on preference. Students will receive formative feedback on their plans for these workshops, and they will also write a short, reflective essay on the outcomes.  


Available on which programme(s)? 

L2 Drama, Drama and Screen, Drama and English, Music and Drama  

Available as Free Choice (UG) or to other programmes (PG)? 



Pre-requisite units 

Any L1 Drama Practice module – Performance Practices 1; Performance Practices 2 


Co-requisite units  

Any L2 Drama Core Study module - Practitioners in Context 1; Practitioners in Context 2 



  • To introduce students to a range of impromptu drama practices. 

  • To develop students’ understanding of the historical and theoretical connections between such practices. 

  • To develop students’ ability to apply critical/historical understandings in the development of their own spontaneous practices, “here and now”.  

  • To equip students with a grounding in how to work responsibly, ethically and effectively with spontaneous contributions from audience-participants. 

  • To stimulate students creatively in producing impactful improvisation workshops. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate a basic contextual understanding of spontaneous drama practices. 

  • Demonstrate a capacity to select appropriate practical methods in developing spontaneous performances/workshops with specific objectives.  

  • Demonstrate an understanding of how to develop and pitch a targeted workshop brief. 

  • Demonstrate an understanding of how to facilitate spontaneous drama exercises with unrehearsed participants.  

  • Demonstrate an ability to reflect critically on the planning and delivery of spontaneous drama performances/workshops. 

Intellectual skills

  • Demonstrate their ability to reflect critically on the development of spontaneous performance events. 

  • Demonstrate an ability to use reflective practice in developing and evaluating their own practical work. 

Practical skills


  • Develop their own confidence and versatility in presenting spontaneous, unrehearsed performance material, in a variety of contexts. 

  • Demonstrate their skills in the research, development and pitching of participatory workshops. 

  • Demonstrate their skills in the live facilitation of spontaneous performances/workshops, including an understanding of the ethical use of impromptu contributions.  

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Work to develop a brief for participatory engagement. 

  • Demonstrate a good level of interpersonal communication and team-working skills. 

  • Demonstrate creative individual and group-work skills (problem-solving, thinking innovatively, drawing on creative approaches of others, evaluating creative approaches of others, giving and receiving feedback, time-keeping). 

  • Use effective leadership and group-work skills to solve problems and sustain a creative process. 

  • Perform with confidence and spontaneity for specific audiences/contexts. 

  • Exercise ethical and social responsibility when working with groups and individuals. 

Employability skills

Group/team working
Ability to work independently and/or as part of a group to conceive, plan, undertake and evaluate an open-ended process of participatory engagement.
A good level of skill in managing a group-work process ¿ leadership skills, ideas-sharing, giving and receiving feedback, taking initiative, negotiation, flexibility, compromise, collaboration, making contributions, reliability, time-keeping et cetera.
Oral communication
Maintaining professional standards as regards self-presentation, including ability to speak to an audience with confidence and precision.
Problem solving
Confidence in responding flexibly and spontaneously to specific situational challenges
A good level of ability to use reflexivity and emotional intelligence when working in groups (maintaining balance between taking initiative/leading and effectively facilitating the contributions of others; ability to empathise with multiple perspectives; ability to adapt to distinct contexts etc.).

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%
Portfolio 60%

Feedback methods

Feedback method  

Formative or Summative 

Workshop pitch – oral  


Participatory workshop and supporting casebook documentation – oral and written 


Reflective essay - written 


Ongoing feedback during workshops –peer to peer and tutor to student - oral 


Recommended reading

Baim, Clark et al, The Geese Theatre Handbook (Reading: Waterside Press, 2002) 


Boal, Augusto, Games for Actors and Non-Actors (London: Routledge, 2002) 


Bolton, Gavin and Heathcote, Dorothy, So You Want to Use Role-Play? (Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham, 1999) 


Bottoms, Stephen and Goulish, Matthew, Small Acts of Repair (London: Routledge, 2007) 


James, Karl, Say It and Solve It  (Harlow: Pearson, 2014) 


Johnston, Chris, House of Games: Making Theatre from Everyday Life, 2nd ed. (London: Nick Hern, 2005) 


Johnston, Chris, The Improvisation Game (London: Nick Hern, 2006). 


Johnstone, Keith, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (London: Bloomsbury, 2018) [or earlier editions]  


Merlin, Bella, Konstantin Stanislavsky, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2018) 


Moreno, Jacob Levy, Psychodrama, Volume 1 (Princeton: Psychodrama Press, 2019) 


Nicholson, Helen, Theatre, Education and Performance: The Map and the Story (London: Palgrave, 2011)  


Pasolli, Robert, A Book on the Open Theatre (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970) 


Spolin, Viola, Improvisation for the Theater, 3rd ed. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1999) 


Sternberg, Patricia and Garcia, Antonina, Sociodrama, 2nd ed. (Westport and London: Praeger, 2000) 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Tutorials 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stephen Scott-Bottoms Unit coordinator

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